The Beaver English Department teaches active reading, writing, reflection, and analysis. In our explorations of language and literature, we encourage students to access both their imaginations and their intellects. As they learn, students develop the means of confidently and skillfully expressing their knowledge, observations, and feelings. We believe that engagement with literature leads students to explore human nature, understand multiple perspectives, question the world around them, and appreciate the power and complexity of language.
Ninth grade classes are all offered at the Standard level only, giving students a year to accustom themselves to the demands of the upper school curriculum. In the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades, students may elect to take their English courses at the Honors level during the course selection process. Specific expectations for honors students are outlined below. While the English department is committed to providing every student with a challenging curriculum, the Honors option is open to any student who wishes to engage with the subject at an even more sophisticated, complex, and demanding level. In making their decisions, students should consult their current English teachers and/or the head of the department. Decisions should take into account level of interest as well as ability in English.
In grade 10 through 12, students may elect to take their English course at the honors level by signing a contract. Honors students are expected to be leaders in class discussions, to maintain a high level of enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity, and to demonstrate a superior level of critical analysis in all written work and on honors-specific prompts on assessments. Earning Honors credit requires that after electing Honors and signing the contract, that the student continues to live up to these expectations.
What does it mean to be American? From the perspectives of indigenous people to the revolution that defined our independence to slavery and its legacy to the very cases contended today in the Supreme Court, we address the range of Americanism, the beautiful and the sordid. Students read, debate, create, reflect, act, film, write, craft, and present as ways of asking big questions, answering the questions with specific evidence, and acknowledging the complexities of those answers. Readings include fiction, non-fiction, memoir, poetry, and drama, incorporating texts that we read as a full class and texts that students choose to read in small groups.
In this course, we turn to great American writers whose work has defined generations of American citizens, and we use these writings to ask the question: What does it really mean to be American? What choices did people make and why? How do we wrestle with our past as we consider the ways our characters face their futures?
There are myriad tangible and intangible ways that we define ourselves — from large scale identifiers like nation and religion, to the little things, like choosing what shoes to wear in the morning. In this term, we look at identity through varied American lenses: through journey, through challenges, through place, and through choices. All of these perspectives ultimately help inform our own perspectives of who we are and why we believe the things we do.
Carlos Fuentes once commented that writing is a “struggle against silence,” while Anais Nin believed people write “to taste life twice.” There is no question that writing is a fundamental human act, but why do people write? What are the various motives that compel people to put pen to paper? How does a writer’s purpose influence the content and style of her writing? These are some of the questions that guide students’ exploration of the writing process throughout this course. From Aristotle’s politics to Zadie Smith’s essay ‘Dance Lessons for Writers’, we examine how language is working to convey an emotion, idea, or situation. Students are encouraged to experiment with language and incorporate rhetorical devices, in the hopes that they find a voice that resonates with them authentically.
The View Within
This course focuses on the power of perspective. We will explore and cultivate our own voices through creative non-fiction, non-linear storytelling, and poetry. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, a craft that will bring us to conversations about politics, culture, business entrepreneurship, advertising and marketing. In this, we will both develop a lens through which we read expert texts while also writing our own way into knowing.
The View Outside
This term of English 11: Rhetoric explores the intersection of storytelling and the world around us. Using literature from around the world, we’ll investigate various movements — political, social, musical, historical, cultural — through language, both creatively and analytically. We will explore how these movements inject themselves into all facets of experience, from the personal to the communal and beyond.
Throughout both the Power and Perspectives trimesters, students read, write, act, create, listen, watch, wonder, debate, and present; they work independently and collaboratively, use their questions as starting points for their work, and use technology to deepen their learning. Ultimately, they connect the characters and themes to the world today. Readings include fiction, non-fiction, memoir, poetry, and drama, incorporating ancient and contemporary texts that we read as a full class and texts that students read in small groups. Most days start with independent reading or writing, and grammar and vocabulary are integrated into the week.
In this trimester course, we question the nature of power. What is the intersection of power and our characters’ gender, age, race, political beliefs, socio-economic reality, or experience? What is the relationship between power and fate? Why do some characters let power compromise their beliefs while others use their power for good?
Stories teach, challenge, reveal, guide, and inspire us. They push us to explore the human condition through a different lens, and in their most powerful moments, stories help us develop empathy and foster change. In this trimester course, we use stories to understand our world, and in doing so, we re-invent ourselves from English students to curious, engaged readers and writers who seek to understand why people make the choices they do.
The word “poetry” conjures up, for many, the likes of Sappho, Chaucer, Basho, and Whitman; not everyone, though, is aware of the present state of the genre. In this class, we will discuss our preconceived notions of poetry, deconstruct those notions, and collectively define what it means to be a poet in the new millennium. Today’s poetry landscape is populated with an incredibly broad range of styles, forms, tones, influences, and subject matters. By reading and hearing poets like Eduardo Corral, Juan Felipe Herrera, Aja Monet, Rupi Kaur, Rudy Francisco, and Danez Smith, you will find proof that language, used precisely and thoughtfully, can achieve many different goals. In addition to reading and analyzing samples from the spectrum of contemporary poetry, you will write and workshop your own poems. A willingness to take risks, to read each night, and to take an active role in class discussion is required.
When was the last time you were responsible for picking your reading for a course? At the beginning of this class, you will generate a list of books you want to read, and then you will campaign for your favorite; after the campaign season ends, you’ll vote, and several books will win. We’ll spend the term reading them, examining them for character, theme, structure, style, and message. How does choosing the text intersect with investment in the reading? Is the text a great book? Ultimately, you decide whether the books deserve spots on the shelf and how you go about choosing your next read. You will respond to the reading in various forms of writing, class discussions, projects, and presentations.
Previous winners: 1984, Lolita, Brave New World, Catch 22, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Lord of the Flies, Scarlet Letter, On the Road, The Kite Runner, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Did you like the movie or the book better? Is this a sensible question, or are we being asked to compare unlike genres? In this course we will investigate these two art forms, comparing the narrative possibilities — and limitations — of each. How do these modes of storytelling differ in terms of their effects? What can film achieve that a novel or play cannot, and vice versa? What is lost in the translation of literature into film, and what makes a “good” adaptation? We will read two novels and a play closely, and we will study a film based on each. You will think and write critically about how these stories are told on the printed page and on the screen.
What is money’s place in society? Why do so many students say that The Great Gatsby inspired them more than any other text? What other stories use money — or the lack thereof — as a central theme? What is the connection between money and power? What is revealed about inequity in society? What messages are sent, reinforced, and challenged? What happens when the whole system explodes? In this class you’ll read fiction and non-fiction, write, watch, and listen, and then design a question and research, collaborate, and present your findings.
This course will anchor itself around Jeffrey Allen Renard’s novel, Rails Under My Back, and explore the black American experience. We will read poems, essays, and excerpts from other writers that include Toni Morrison, Tracy K. Smith, and Ta Nehisi Coates.
In the 1960’s, American literature experienced a formidable boom in science fiction writing. The complicated politics of the time led to “The New Wave,” a literary age of up-and-coming writers addressing America’s more contentious social and political events through the medium of science fiction. Future literary giants like Kurt Vonnegut, Isaac Asimov, and Ursula Le Guin, among many others, began incorporating science fiction modes and techniques into their novels to further dissect this phenomenon we call existence. With the advent of new film technologies, Hollywood caught on to the wave and began producing America’s first big-budget, full-length science fiction movies.
How does something so small pack such a big punch? Such is the nature of a short story. You’ll hone in on story elements by investigating a variety of stories and writers. Everyone has a story to tell. You’ll experiment with turning your own stories into short fiction, and you will continue to develop analytical essay writing skills.
Have you ever heard a song that evoked an emotional response in ways that you could not describe? Have you ever considered why strings in a pop song always take it up a slight level? Do you ever ponder how Kanye West’s chipmunk funk sparked an era of good feelings in hip-hop? If so, you’re ready to dissect some of music’s most profound works. Using the format of podcast, we will examine albums, including Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Additionally, you will develop the skills and ability to create your own serialized podcast that examines an iconic album of your choice. In this, we will discuss and deconstruct lyrics, samples, instrumentation, cultural context, and musical and literary allusions within the works. We will leave this class not only enjoying music but learning how to read an album as one would read a book.
Each of us has an inner world of images, memories, and dreams. This internal landscape holds unlimited possibilities for storytelling. This course will help you explore your personal mythology, discover your own voice, and polish your writing skills. Through a variety of exercises, you will shape memory and imagination into different forms of storytelling, including flash fiction, collage, and oral narratives. Throughout the term you will read published essays and short stories and workshop your writing.
Possible texts: stories and essays by Angelou, Boyle, Burnham, Cheever, Cunningham, Fondation, Forché, Miller, Minot, Oppenheimer, Painter, Salinger, Shae, Tolstoy, Updike, and Wolff.
Students have the opportunity to explore English, History, Mathematics, Science, Language, or Arts topics of interest under the supervision of a member of the appropriate department. After designing a project with a faculty member, the student presents a formal proposal to the Department Heads for approval. (An Independent Study may not duplicate the content of another course already being offered by the department because of schedule conflicts.) The student works in his or her own time and meets with the specified department member during one scheduled period per week for discussions and planning. Application forms are available from the Upper School Director. Proposals must have been submitted by the regular course selection dates.